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Bucky's Best: Top CFB matchups to watch in Week 7


In his weekly Bucky's Best series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks identifies the must-see matchups of the weekend in college football.

Most anticipated matchup in NFL circles

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota vs. UCLA QB Brent Hundley

This matchup between two of the top-rated quarterback prospects in college football has lost a bit of its luster after Oregon and UCLA suffered losses a week ago. But that won't stop NFL scouts from descending upon the Rose Bowl on Saturday to see which quarterback possesses the best long-term potential. While Mariota has been touted as potentially the top QB prospect in the 2015 class -- he'll still have college eligibility after this season -- due to his exceptional combination of athleticism, arm talent and playmaking ability, he still needs to address concerns about his pocket presence and ball security after an uneven performance against Arizona. Additionally, scouts want to see how the junior bounces back from a loss that took college football observers by surprise.

» Brooks: Mariota yet to prove he's franchise QB

For Hundley, it's all about showing scouts that he is a franchise quarterback on par with the elites at the position. Although scouts are impressed with his athleticism, poise and playmaking skills, he continues to frustrate evaluators with his questionable pocket awareness and inconsistent deep-ball accuracy. Hundley takes too many sacks in the pocket and his inability to punish defenses with accurate deep balls leads to concerns about his ability to thrive in a vertical-based passing game. With scouts also questioning his leadership skills under pressure, Hundley has a lot riding on his performance against Oregon. How well he responds will go a long way in war rooms in the spring.

Most intriguing matchup

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott vs. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson

Prescott, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, has been the most dominant offensive player in college football. Prescott has accounted for 20 total touchdowns as the point man of Dan Mullen's spread offense; his skills as an improvisational playmaker have made the Bulldogs nearly impossible to defend. Against the Tigers, Prescott will be challenged to win the game through the air with Johnson prone to sending a variety of blitzes to snuff out the run. How well the Bulldogs' star performs as a passer could determine whether Mississippi State remains a viable contender for a playoff berth at season's end.

» Predictions for top games of Week 7

Johnson has quickly orchestrated a defensive turnaround at Auburn. Utilizing an ultra-aggressive scheme that features a host of blitzes and exotic pressures, Johnson attacks the offense from every angle to create chaos at the point of attack. Moreover, the wily defensive coordinator wants to disrupt the rhythm and confidence of the play caller, leading to a one-dimensional approach that's easy to defend. Although Mullen has one of the best playmakers in college football at his disposal, Johnson's blitz-heavy scheme could force Prescott off his game and render the Bulldogs helpless against the Tigers in a huge SEC West showdown.

Best matchup in the trenches

Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil vs. Texas A&M Rush LB Myles Garrett

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze deserves kudos for assembling a young collection of talent that is loaded with NFL potential. While most of the country already knows about the talented defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche) and wide receiver (Laquon Treadwell), the NFL scouting community is paying closer attention to the big, athletic offensive tackle who flashes the potential to be a difference maker on the edge. Tunsil displays the strength and power to move defenders off the ball in the run game, yet is agile enough to shadow and dance with speed rushers off the edge in pass protection. Against Texas A&M, he will have an opportunity to show scouts he is capable of snuffing out a talented edge rusher with terrific first-step quickness and burst when he matches up against Garrett on the perimeter.

Garrett, the Aggies' freshman sensation, is a terrific speed rusher with exceptional first-step quickness and burst off the edge. He leads the team in sacks (6.5) and is quickly emerging as one of the most disruptive defenders in the SEC. Although his production has dipped a bit with opponents using tight ends and running backs to chip him at the line of scrimmage, Garrett is a game-changer capable of producing an impact at any moment with his speed, quickness and burst. Given the shaky play of Rebels QB Bo Wallace from the pocket, the rookie standout can get the Aggies back on track and enhance his reputation as a future star with a dominant performance against Tunsil.

Best under-the-radar matchup

Georgia RB Nick Chubb vs. Missouri defensive line

The surprising suspension of Todd Gurley thrusts Chubb into the spotlight as the Bulldogs' new workhorse runner. The rookie standout is the team's second-leading rusher (224 rushing yards) and is averaging an impressive 7.2 yards per attempt as a big-bodied, change-of-pace back. He's not as explosive or dynamic between the tackles as Gurley, but he's a former four-star recruit coming off an impressive showing against Vanderbilt that earned him SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors. If he can give the Bulldogs a tough-guy presence in the backfield with his hard-nosed running style, Chubb can help Georgia maintain its offensive potency despite the loss of its top player.

» Brooks: What suspension means for Gurley's draft stock

The Tigers' defensive line deservedly receives a lot of attention for its pass-rush prowess, but the unit hasn't been as strong against the run. Missouri is allowing 144.6 rushing yards per game and has given up nine rushing scores. Most importantly, the Tigers are giving up 3.7 yards per carry, which is too much for a defense that wants to rank among the elites. With the Bulldogs intent on adhering to a blue-collar game plan that emphasizes the run, defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden must control the point of attack to help the Tigers win a big game with significant SEC East title implications.

Best WR-DB matchup

Washington State WR Vince Mayle vs. Stanford CB Alex Carter

Mayle has quietly become one of the draft's biggest sleepers in the NFL scouting community. Evaluators are smitten with his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), athleticism and ball skills, but realize he is still a work in progress as a receiver. Despite his inexperience as a major college player (former JUCO transfer in his second season at Washington State), Mayle has snagged 51 balls for 703 yards and six scores. Facing a Stanford secondary that will challenge him with its technical skills and physicality, Mayle will have an opportunity to show scouts how quickly his potential could turn into production at the next level.

Carter is an intriguing prospect with all of the physical tools to be an impact cover corner at the next level. Measuring 6-0, 202 pounds with long arms and outstanding athleticism, he's ideally suited to play as a press-man or Cover 2 corner at the next level. Considering his strong bloodlines (Carter's dad, Tom, was a first-round selection of the Washington Redskins in 1993) and his steady game, scouts are already salivating about his potential as a cover-corner/hybrid-safety prospect. With a strong performance against Mayle in an underrated Pac-12 showdown, Carter can make a strong statement about his readiness for the pro game.

Best coaching matchup

Baylor head coach Art Briles vs. TCU head coach Gary Patterson

It's amazing how a former high school coach can change the landscape of the college game with his innovative offensive approach, but that's what Briles has done during his time at Baylor. The Bears' spread offense lights up scoreboards across the Big 12, with Bryce Petty picking apart opponents with his pinpoint passing ability and sneaky running skills. With a host of complementary playmakers like Antwan Goodley, KD Cannon, Levi Norwood and Shock Linwood capable of delivering home run plays from anywhere on the field, Briles has the personnel to run any opponent out of the stadium with his frenetic, fast-paced approach.

Patterson is a defensive mastermind capable of slowing down the most sophisticated offensive attacks with his versatile 4-2-5 defense. Last week, Patterson crafted a superb game plan that keyed the Horned Frogs' upset win over Oklahoma, but he will face a bigger challenge slowing down a Bears offense that seemingly scores a point a minute under Briles. Given the Bears' explosiveness on the perimeter, Patterson must decide whether to leave his corners alone in coverage on blitzes or take a conservative approach and force Petty to "nickel and dime" the ball down the field on quick-rhythm throws to the outside. How he decides to attack the Bears could decide whether this Big 12 contest turns into a grind-it-out affair or another Texas shootout on Saturday.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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